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Creating a Winning Proposal for Web Projects

Last updated Oct 17, 2003.

As a designer, the first and most important step in any project is creating a winning proposal. A solid proposal is more than just an explanation of what you're planning to do for your client—it involves research, experienced suggestions, professional design, and a detailed explanation of how you can help your client achieve his goals.

On the other hand, in-depth proposals may not make sense for every project. Some projects are simply too small to require that level of research and preparation. By following the steps in this article, however, you can create a proposal template that can be easily customized to suit any project—large or small.

Study the Client

The first step in writing a proposal is finding out exactly what your potential client needs. This not only helps you deliver a proposal that is relevant, it also helps you estimate cost more appropriately, so that you receive what you are worth. Of course, it's always possible to talk to the client if you're reaching the end of your budget, but it makes you look more professional if you prevent this from happening. Who said a little overbidding would make your potential clients go running? In fact, overbidding could help you come in under budget and keep your client happy and ready to come back when he has a new project.

Another way to help you understand a client's needs is to develop a questionnaire to cover common questions before you even get started. This can be posted on your web site or e-mailed to a client upon the request for proposal (RFP). Any way to eliminate redundancy on your end will speed up the process of finding clients.

Study the Competition

Studying the client does not always involve the clients themselves— what about their competition? They may shed some insight on other ways of achieving the goals that are similar to those of the client. It's also good research to discover what their weaknesses are and how you can help prevent your client from heading in these directions. In order to make your client stand out from the competition, you must first understand what the competition has to offer.

Writing the Proposal

Contact Information: Always start with your contact information—you want the client to always remember who wrote the winning proposal. This information can be included on a professionally designed (don't overdo it) cover page that includes the name of the client and the project for which you're writing the proposal.

Overview and goals: Summarize in laymen’s terms the entire proposal for the clients, so they can pass it around the office and people can glance easily at it to get an idea of your overall plan. Once you grab them with your brilliant overview, the deciders will take the time to read the entire proposal.

Explain how you will accomplish the client's goals. Just remember, you are the expert, so make some suggestions along the way as well. Sometimes clients don't know what is available to them.

Competition: Use the research that you gathered from studying the client's competition. Explain how you will prevent them from having these same issues and how you will make them stand out from the crowd. Use screenshots to explain yourself when necessary.Strategy: Explain your approach in laymen’s terms. Use images to explain yourself when necessary. If you are bidding on a large project, it may even be worth the time to build a few mockups.

Process: This is where you explain what it takes to reach the client's goals. List all of the nitty-gritty details for what the job entails here.

Payment Schedule: In as much detail as possible, explain the billing total and payment schedule for the project. This is also where you'll want to explain your terms, such as your policies on revisions, hiring contractors, assessing late fees on invoices, and so on. Adding 20% to the total usually keeps you covered on changes or hidden features, as things always take longer and there are typically details that were somehow left out.

Company Highlights: Strut your stuff, inform the client of your expertise. List relevant awards, noteworthy clients, testimonials, and any relevant background information on yourself or your company and employees.

Remember, these steps are not always set in stone. Clients may have a certain format that you should respect. Other times not all of the steps will be relevant to a project. Think of these steps as an outline to quickly mold into a request to any RFP.